Warfighting peacemaker (and other oxymorons)

Bagram Air Field, Afganistan --  A screenshot of the SKYPE window on my Macbook, taken today while talking to Taj (and getting an impromptu recital.) Electronic parenting is better than no parenting at all!
Bagram Air Field, Afganistan —
A screenshot of the SKYPE window on my Macbook, taken today while talking to Taj (and getting an impromptu recital.) Electronic parenting is better than no parenting at all!

Taj’s picture (left,) doesn’t really have anything to do with tonight’s post … I just wanted to share with you another episode of my electronic parenting saga.

Anyway …

Part of our duties as a Provincial Reconstruction Team is to help get the government process working between Afghans and their government representatives. Understanding that this is not a shoot-first type of mission, our duties often require us to serve as facilitators; simply communicating with people in hopes of being able to motivate them. We sort of dabble in a little of all the soft sciences … psychology, interpersonal communication, diplomacy, mediation. These are skills they DON’T teach us in any military school.

We learned a valuable lesson today about relationships in the ‘stan. Our team planned to hold a workshop designed to help Afghans interact with their government and coalition forces. It was designed as a simple training event for low-to-mid-level staff workers, rather than a formal meeting between senior Afghan officials and coalition military officers. Despite our intent to avoid a big meeting with the VIPs, there was some confusion regarding the list of invitees, and one very important Afghan was concerned about not being invited.

The confusion resulted in very few people (much less than we anticipated) attending our workshop. But, more importantly, it reminded us of the importance that Afghans place on relationships. It stressed the same thing many people are saying about success in Afghanistan: we cannot win this war with firepower, money and mass construction. If we are to be successful, it will because we understand the nature of the Afghan people and are able to work with them (and not do work FOR them.)

For people not familiar with the military, this idea is kind of foreign. It’s logical to think that military people exist for the purpose of applying force.

This is true … but our force is not limited to just our guns. Think about it. What kind of force is required to get people to genuinely WANT to come to a meeting? What kind of force is necessary to get people to WANT to take your advice once you leave the meeting?

Aside from the guns, our communication, understanding, patience and trust are very powerful weapons. Maybe our military hasn’t always dusted these weapons off and put them to use as often as we should have. We certainly are now. (Of course, we’re not putting away our guns.)

darricklee Written by: